Three backcountry skiers made it safely to the bottom of the run after triggering an approximately Class 2 avalanche outside of Blackcomb's ski area boundary on Monday, Dec. 27.
The report came in to Blackcomb Ski Patrol at 3:10 p.m. from Phalanx Mountain, an area known locally as the Poop Chutes. The three men skied out on the avalanche debris then made their way to the nearest chairlift, where they informed the ski patrol.
The backcountry skiers were heading up the slope when the slab avalanche occurred, mid-way up the run. The slide reached Blackcomb Creek, but did not cross into the ski area boundary or pose any risk to skiers on the Blackcomb Glacier.
However, to be safe the ski patrol immediately dispatched a crew to the site with a helicopter and members of Search and Rescue. They conducted some avalanche control, did a search for buried transceivers and at lost brought in Canadian Avalanche Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) teams to sniff through the rubble to confirm that nobody was caught in the slide. There were no reports of missing skiers or snowboarders, and the searchers concluded that the slide zone was clear at 4:15 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 28
According to the RCMP the three men were brothers, two living in Vancouver and another living out of country. They were equipped for backcountry travel and cooperated with police and patrollers. All three were above the slide when it occurred and got to the bottom by skiing carefully through the debris.
A Class 2 avalanche, on a scale from Class 1 to Class 5, is defined as one that is large enough to bury, injure or kill a person. A Class 1 avalanche is considered harmless, while a Class 3 avalanche could bury and destroy a car, damage a truck, destroy a small building or break trees.
The slide risk for the alpine was posted as "Considerable" at the time of the slide, which rates as a "3" on a scale from 1 to 5. Considerable is defined as "Dangerous avalanche conditions. Careful snowpack evaluation, cautious route-finding and conservative decision-making essential. Natural avalanches possible; human triggered avalanches likely." According to the Canadian Avalanche Centre, there are continued reports of slides occurring deep down in the weak layer that formed during November's arctic outflow.
The temperature at the time of Monday's slide was -9 C with wind speeds at 39 to 53 km/h. Some 12 cm of snow had fallen overnight, with 217 cm over the previous seven days. It's been estimated that the fracture in the Poop Chutes, which occurred mid-slope, was up to two metres deep.
More snow is in the forecast but avalanche risk may drop later this week as the snowpack settles.
Always get up-to-date information before travelling into the backcountry at www.avalanche.ca/cac/ or at www.whistlerblackcomb.com. You can aslo call 604-938-7676 to get up-to-date conditions for Whistler.
Always bring the proper avalanche self-rescue gear, travel with company and leave gaps between skiers and boarders to reduce the chance that more than one person could be caught in an avalanche.
As well, Whistler Blackcomb Ski Patrol urge backcountry users to report any avalanche activity to a ski patroller.